Josh Warrington wants to thrill fans when he takes on Mauricio Lara

IBF world champion Josh Warrington wants fans ‘on the edge of their sofa’ when he faces Mauricio Lara after seeing his clash with Can Xu dashed over the WBA king’s refusal to fight without fans

  • Josh Warrington suffered frustration when his scrap with Can Xu was called off
  • WBA champion Xu claimed he did not want to take part without a crowd present
  • Warrington has watched other Matchroom stars such as Anthony Joshua fight on
  • The IBF king hopes to put on a show when he faces Mauricio Lara on February 13

Josh Warrington expected to celebrate his 30th birthday as unified world champion, with dreams fulfilled and enough money to hang up his gloves for good.

Instead, the IBF featherweight king finds himself with grey hair, back ache and the pain of feeling like a ‘spare part’.

For a while now, the 30-year-old had hoped to reignite his career with a barnstorming clash with WBA champion Can Xu.

Josh Warrington had been set to take on Can Xu before the WBA champion chose not to fight

The Yorkshireman has only fought twice since a seismic victory over Carl Frampton in late 2018

In what was set to be a glorious swansong on these shores before breaking America, Warrington was due to fight China’s Xu at Headingley in front of 25,000 fans.

Even after the pandemic altered those plans, the all-action pair remained on a collision course behind closed doors.

‘I had the artwork sent through,’ Warrington says. ‘Christmas Eve we were going to do an interview ready to go out.’ And then he found out Xu was refusing to fight without fans.

‘I was telling people to watch out for the news, all the sparring partners were tailored for Xu, all the tactics,’ he said. ‘(From) my old fella sitting down on the toilet with his iPad making notes, to other people picking up data on how many punches he throws in a round.

‘I was lying in bed at night thinking about the fight with Xu, trying to visualise it, and for then for him to go he doesn’t want to fight without a crowd… what the f***, what is your life?’

Despite his frustrations, Warrington feels that Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn has tried to help

Warrington must now defend his belt against unfancied Mexican Mauricio Lara on February 13.

It means his costly preparations for Xu must be put on hold for now. They may yet meet down the line but sparring partners had already been brought to Leeds from all over the country to fine tune his work.

‘They’re on £20, £30, £40 a round,’ Warrington explains. ‘Plus travel expenses on top of that. It soon adds up and it is all tailored on that opponent.’

It caps a frustrating couple of years for the Leeds Warrior. Victory over Carl Frampton in a December 2018 thriller put Warrington on the cusp of mega fights around the world.

He had upset Lee Selby earlier in the year to win the IBF belt but only underwhelming wins over Kid Galahad and Sofiane Takoucht have followed.

‘When I beat Selby, I was 27. When I signed back up with Eddie (Hearn last February), I thought I’d be unified champion and potentially may have had two fights in 2020, more than enough money to retire on by 30. I’d have achieved everything – and more – than I ever dreamed of,’ he says.

A win over Lee Selby at the age of 27 had Warrington eyeing a rapid glorious career trajectory

‘But now I’m 30, I’m getting grey hairs because of all the stress of not being out, I’ve got back ache, the missus is saying: “When are you going to retire because I can’t do this no more on my own!”‘

He has taken his frustrations out in the gym and sought light relief during lockdown, too. Warrington recently filmed his dad Sean O’Hagan performing his own ‘Riverdance’.

‘We are lucky it was a full-clothed Riverdance because Plan B was some rollie pollies wearing a mankini,’ Warrington jokes.

But with the likes of Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte still securing big fights during the pandemic, does he feel like Matchroom’s forgotten man?

‘Yes, a little bit,’ he said. ‘Maybe I should have gone to more press conference to slag people off or called them a w***** on Twitter.’

Now 30, Warrington’s next defence of his title is against Mexican Mauricio Lara on February 13

He adds: ‘I understand it’s difficult but I saw Dillian and others getting theirs while I am like a spare part.

‘Eddie explained what they were getting, in terms of their purses and box-office money, and it made sense…. I have put my faith in Eddie and I think he has done everything he can.’

Still, though, the to-do list remains incomplete. That’s why he told his wife Natasha that his career will go on for a year longer than planned.

Warrington wants to unify and would consider moving up to super featherweight in search of household names. Fighting abroad – particularly in Las Vegas, perhaps in the Middle East – remains a dream, too.

‘I boxed in Berlin and there are still loads of folk stories told about that and it was only a steady eight-rounder,’ he says. ‘If it means I am 34 and my eye is down there (he gestures to his cheek), I’m slurring a bit and I get the opportunity, I will do it for my fans. ‘

The likes of Matchroom stablemate Anthony Joshua have fought while Warrington has waited

He fears coronavirus may rob him of a homecoming bash – even if fans are allowed back at stadiums or arenas soon.

‘Life has changed now,’ he says. ‘I think some people are still going to be put off by it, there are certainly going to be people not wanting to get covered in other people’s p*** as I walk to the ring to I Predict A Riot!’

Nor does he think people want to see a rematch with Kid Galahad. Warrington edged a drab split decision when the rivals met in June 2019.

Galahad is his mandatory challenger once more, but Warrington says: ‘It was an absolute snooze fest.

‘I want fans to be on the edge of their sofa, spilling the takeaway all over as they’re watching the boxing and their heart pounding and saying: “That was a right fight, save that on the planner, don’t delete that, I want to watch that one again.”

‘I don’t want them to be turning it off and watching Babestation after round six because it’s an absolutely dog s***e of a fight.’

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